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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Trees in the Winter: Tu B’Shevat is Upon Us


“HaShikaydeyah Porahchat HaShemesh He Zorahchet…the almond tree is in bloom and the sun is shining.” With snow predicted for this weekend, it is odd to be thinking about trees in bloom. But this is the opening line of a song associated with Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees, which this year falls on Monday. And it is possible, though it is the middle of winter, that some of the almond trees in Israel will already be in bloom with pink or white flowers.


Originally, the holiday was one created for ritual reasons. The fruit of trees was forbidden to be eaten in the first 3 years—this is called Orlah--, with 4th year fruit obligated to be taken up to Jerusalem. Only in year 5 could all of the fruit be used. Tu B’Shevat was the dividing line; on that day trees were deemed to be one year older, regardless of when they were planted. Given that many fruit trees require several years of growth before producing fruit, and, eating 4th year fruit in Jerusalem was only required of fruit grown in Israel, the result was that for centuries the day was only a minor liturgical blip—a couple of prayers in the daily service are omitted--, and that was it.


However, the 16th century Jewish mystics of Safed created a Tu B’Shevat which was revived in various forms in the late 20th century: a variety of fruits, not all of them classically associated with the land of Israel, are eaten, amidst reciting relevant passages. (Hey, it is a seder: there has to be some text to go with the food and wine!) Others make a point of eating the 7 foods mentioned in the Bible and associated with Israel: wheat, barley, grapes/wine, olives, pomegranate, figs, and dates/honey. We are planning on offering these at Kiddush on Shabbat. And we may even offer you a taste of “bokser.”


The re-imagining of the day as a time to plant trees can be traced to the efforts of Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz who led his students on a planting outing in Zichron Yaakov, one of the early settlements in Israel, back in 1890. When the Jewish National Fund came into existence a little more than a decade later, it soon embraced the idea of planting trees in Israel, and beyond the ubiquitous blue boxes, promoted tree planting at this time of year. Now, of course, one can make contributions to JNF year-round, but for me, with a nod to Tu B’Shevat, this is when I make my annual contribution. One more certificate to add to the collection. (, is where you go to make your contribution.) So, help add to the beauty of Israel and enjoy the fruits of the land: Israeli olives (available at Commack Shoprite) would go well with some Israeli wine.


Shabbat shalom v’chag sameach.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Transforming Seaweed Into Plastic


We are all aware that plastics have a deleterious impact upon the environment. The search is on for bioplastics, for plastics made from renewable sources, such as plants or old waste, and which degrade quickly. But as Professor Alexander Goldberg of Tel Aviv University noted: “…bioplastics also have an environmental price: to grow the plants or the bacteria to make the plastic requires fertile soil and fresh water, which many countries, including Israel, don’t have.”


A recent study by Goldberg and his colleague Professor Michael Gozin of Tel Aviv University explores the possibility of developing bioplastic polymers derived from microorganisms that feed on seaweed. According to Goldberg, “Our new process produces ‘plastic’ from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste.”


The raw material is multicellular seaweed which are then eaten by single-celled microorganisms which also grow in salt water and produce a polymer that can be fashioned into a bioplastic. What makes the Israeli effort different is that unlike previous processes—and some are already commercially produced—that require land and fresh water, the Israeli product relies on salt water, which is in abundance in the seas and oceans.


Having demonstrated that it is possible to produce bioplastics based on marine resources in a process that is environmentally friendly, the team is now moving on to conduct research to find, according to Goldberg, “the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties.”







Payrush LaParshahah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of B’shalach (Exodus 14::26-17:16) is read this Saturday, January 19th.


15:20 Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. (21) And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.


The Song at the Sea is one instance in the Torah where women gather separately from men at a time of spiritual intensity. How interesting that Jewish women’s first act of freedom was to celebrate separately from men! During their enslavement in Egypt, the women were focused on keeping up their husbands’ morale. Separation from men was no doubt a respite for women at this point, a form of freedom in of itself.


Thus, rather being an oppressive, enforced segregation,, this “separate and equal” celebration was a strong affirmation of female-bonding. Any woman who has ever lived or worked in an all-female environment knows that the energy is different from that of a mixed group. Women in all-female groups have more freedom to express themselves in a self-defined way, rather than assimilating with men.  In mixed groups, women adapt to men much more than men adapt to women, because men as a group strive for domination in ways that women as a group do not. Thus, women who value themselves and other women enjoy, and often prefer, all-female groups.


Equality and self-determination are essential if same-sex groups are to be separatist rather than segregationist. The song at the sea serves as a model of “separate and equal.” A school that separates boys and girls and has a different curriculum for each is not equal. Similarly, separate seating in a synagogue when only men get to read from the Torah is not equal. Finally, a women’s yeshiva with a male leader and male teachers is not separate or self-determined. (Judith S. Antonelli, in the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah, p. 172. Antonelli was an Orthodox feminist who was born in Cincinnati. She earned degrees in psychology, journalism and women’s studies. For many years she served as associate editor of the Boston Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Advocate and subsequently served as a contributing writer. She also served as co-editor of the short-lived journal, Neshama, a quarterly devoted to women’s spirituality in Judaism. In addition to this volume she was the author of numerous articles that appeared in Jewish ad feminist publications. She died last summer at the age of 65 in the Boston area.)


Thu, January 24 2019 18 Shevat 5779